21th February 2016, Sunday….Day (2) Paonta Sahib to Haridwar, 169 km
My sleep was broken by the sounds of someone walking around the car. I checked the time on my cell phone. It was 8.30am. I felt good. I have had a good six hours uninterrupted sleep on the very first night of the trip inside the car. As I opened the covered door of the car and slipped outside, I saw a perplexed man. He was the owner of the auto mechanic’s shop and was little taken aback seeing a half naked man alight out of the car. The Sun was out in full glory. I smiled and explained that I was late and tired, so I parked the car in front of his shop and slept. The man graciously smiled back and asked if I needed anything.
Paonta Sahib, situated on the banks of River Yamuna, is a small industrial town in the Sirmaur District of Himachal Pradesh. The town was founded by Guru Gobind Singh, the 10th Sikh Guru, in whose memory a beautiful Gurudwara has been built on the banks of River Yamuna.It is also gateway to the hill state Uttrakhand.
A few kilometers drive from Paonta Sahib lies Asan Barrage, on the confluence of Eastern Yamuna Canal and Asan River. The dam creates a reservoir and wetlands which attract variety of domestic as well as migratory birds. Recently it has been declared a bird sanctuary and is a bird watcher’s paradise.
I have crossed Asan Barrage many times in the past but never had a good look at it. It was still quite early. I parked the car on one side of the road and had a nice walk along the lake. Watching birds fly, play, hunt and make noise was a delight. Normally the landscape of the barrage in the backdrop of snowclad mountains is very clear from the place but it was hazy that day.
Beside bird watching, there is a GMVN run watersports complex which offers water skiing, rowing, paddle boating and kayaking. The entire equipment is available on hire.
The drive and landscape all around was wonderful but traffic was real bad. It got worst near and while driving through Dehradun city. Leaving crowded Dehradun and entering Rajaji National Park was a big relief. A few kilometers later the right road lead to Haridwar and the left to Rishikesh. I turned left to Rishikesh and found it too hot and crowded. I decided to cross the bridge on the River Ganga and drove to the other end of Lakshman Jhula.
Rishikesh, the land of sages, is also known as the gateway to Garhwal Himalayas. It is also called the Yoga Capital of the world due to its mystical setting, numerous ashrams and meditation centres. River Ganga passes through it and enters plains after traversing its journey through mighty Himalayas.
There are lot of monkeys and cows all around. This monkey is checking the car to find out if there is something to eat and whether I have left the window open.
Lately, Rishikesh has also become a hub of white river rafting and other adventure sports like bungee jumping, camping and rock climbing. It is also a popular backpacker’s hangout and gateway to treks in the Himalayas.
There was lot of activity in the river. Young boys and girls seemed to be having nice time rafting and kayaking.
Legend has it that Lord Rama did penance here after killing Ravana and his younger brother Lakshman crossed over to the other side of the river by using a jute rope bridge, which was replaced by iron rope bridge in 1889. That bridge was washed away in floods in 1924 and was replaced by a much stronger bridge which is intact til present day and is known as Lakshman jhula.
Ever since Beatles rocked the ashram of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in 1960’s, the place has become very popular with international travellers. Travellers from all parts of the world can be seen hanging around the area, learning yoga, meditation, music and many other skills.
The riverside restaurants and cafes are nice places to sit around and chit chat. They serve variety of indigenous and international food and drinks.
Another feature of Rishikesh is mystic street art which is visible majorly in the northern parts of the city around Lakshman Jhula.
The most happening place in Rishikesh is around Lakshman Jhula. It is the place where you will find most of the visitors hanging around. There are lot of guest houses, restaurants, coffee shops and shopping centres selling all kind of stuff. Although Lakshman jhula looks like meant for pedestrians only, you will find people riding scooters, bikes and honking like crazy.
Evening at Rishikesh is heavenly. A mystic wind starts blowing, temple bells start ringing as sadhus and visitors start gathering for evening aarti at Ganga Ghats. And as the aarti begins, visitors start singing in chorus creating an enchanting atmosphere. And as it stops they float earthen diyas with burning flickers and flowers in them as a symbol of hope and wishes in the River Ganga .The golden hues of floral diyas reflected in the river Ganga presents a spectacular view.
Famous Parmarth Niketan is the place where this heavenly aarti is performed every evening at Sunset.
The dinner at famous Chotiwala near Ram Jhula was very disappointing. It felt they were fed up with their profession. The food was not only poor and over priced but badly served too. Woved never to eat here again.
After having nice time in Rishikesh I was in a fix where to park the car and sleep. Ultimately decided to drive to Haridwar and see what can I do. The road to Haridwar was very crowded and the traffic moved very slowly. As I entered Haridwar I found out why it was so. It was Ardh Kumbh and next day being full moon night, a large crowd and sadhus had converged to Haridwar. There were barricades on all the roads leading to Har Ki Paudi and interior of the city, making it difficult for me to enter the main city or Har Ki Paudi.
Finally found a place inside the lane near Ganga Temple where there was not much of a crowd and chances of me getting disturbed were quite less. After parking the car and covering it, I took a stroll of the street and then walked up to Har Ki Paudi.When I got tired of walking returned back to where my car was parked. Pulled the cover from one side, slipped into the car, locked it from inside and went to sleep.
Thus ended the second day of my trip!!!